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Ahimsa – the ultimate winner

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ROLE OF JAINISM IN PROMOTING INTER-FAITH

CREATIVE ENGAGEMENT

[Presentation at the 1999 Parliament of World’s Religions, Cape Town (South Africa)]

We are on the threshold of 21st century. It is time for the input of spiritual vision to permeate our lives in order to stem the rot created by violent, reckless and exploitative mismanagement of Earth’s resources for human greed.

Mahatma Gandhi, the 20th century Apostle of Non-violence used to say:

The Earth has enough for everyone’s need
But not enough for everyone’s greed”

The human community needs to take the initiative to forge an alliance between science, development, environmental preservation and spiritualism. Human ingenuity must be reinforced by revitalized culture of morality and ethics. Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez has commented:

Expect nothing from the 21st century
It is the 21st century
Which expects everything from you”

Total earth environment has to be changed for the better to promote peace fostering and ecology-friendly way of life”. The challenge before humankind is to shape a just, peaceful and sustainable future.

This calls for an imaginative ground plan of creative engagement and cooperation between different religions and faiths. The aim should be to change the inner orientation, value-system and the whole mentality of the people at individual as well as community levels through a commonly agreed inter-faith plan of action. It is time to sink religious differences and defuse religious confrontation to save the universe.

The dismal world scenario

There has been astounding scientific and technological progress and giant strides towards undreamt of material, comforts and luxuries. And yet the world remains divided between the few rich in the lap of wastefully extravagant luxuries and billions of poor in wrenching poverty, injustice, malnutrition and deprivation.

Federico Mayor, Director General of UNESCO has observed.

Three planets Earth would be necessary for the whole of the world population to reach North American Consumption levels.

Hence the challenge is to build a sharing society based on justice and equality and a planetary society based on mutually sustaining partnership between all living beings and nature’s resource base.

Despite progress in multilateralism symbolized in United Nations and its specialized International Agencies, even though no world war has taken place in the second half of the 20th century, local armed conflicts have raged all over the world and terrorism has emerged as the worst incarnation of the cult of violence. It is a glaringly ironical contrast that while the world community is spending US$700-800 billion on military expenditure, developing countries are denied even US$ 40 billion to achieve universal access to basic education, adequate nutrition, needed drinking water and elementary sanitary and health infrastructure.

Cold war has ended but only in fragile cold peace. Tensions remain; intolerance, hatred, mistrust and suspicions abound and oppressive exploitation of Man by Man and by Man of other living beings and nature continues. Forest cover is rapidly disappearing; air and water are heavily polluted, march of desert continues, global warming is adversely affecting agriculture and land use is erratic and ill balanced.

Need for re-assertion of spiritual wisdom

The information revolution has brought the world much closer together, and globalization is in the air. But information alone cannot feed the life culture. T.S. Eliot wrote many years age:

Where is life we have lost in living
Where is wisdom we have lost in knowledge
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information”

There is increasing realization that reassertion of spiritual wisdom alone would make us aware of the urgent need to save the Mother Earth from depletion of its resource base, to put a stop to the ongoing uprooting of Earth’s eco-system and environmental degradation.

Think globally, act globally

There is no dearth of ideas on how to save the Earth. There are global declarations on spiritual ethics, environment and sustainable development adopted not only by the Parliament of World Religions but also at Environmental Summit Meetings of the United Nations. What is needed now is:

Think globally
Act locally”

For thinking globally, the global culture of non-violence preached by Jain religion as the Supreme Religion must be nurtured by all religions and faiths as well as by Governments and social service institutions.

For acting locally

Creative engagement among different faiths and religions must be forged with realistically drawn up programmes that can galvanize local communities into a spirit of harmonious inter-faith community co-existence and interdependence.

Jain faith can be catalyst in shaping interfaith creative engagement. The potential of Jain principles and practices in enhancing mental & physical discipline and revitalizing soul energy has been demonstrated among several Americans who have been attracted by the conviction to the Jain philosophy. It has been the experience of renowned Jain Guru Chitrabhanu in USA that through observance of fasts, meditation, practicing and preaching vegetarianism, organizing vegetarian projects, nursing ailing human beings and wounded animals and birds, fighting for the rights of animals and preventing cruelty to them. American Jains have acquired not only faith in Jainism but also the conviction in non-violence.

The practice of Jain Philosophy has come to the American and European followers not only as soul purifying and soul uplifting but also making them better, kinder and more compassionate human beings in the wider world of all living beings. Many regard this as a miracle happened to them!

Jain religion has in its principles a complete set of global ethics and human code of behaviour that can set the tone for inter-faith creative engagement.

Jain religion has elucidated the concept of “active non-violence” as an anti-dote to the currently raging violence – physical, mental, verbal and psychological all over the world. Individuals as well as communities as per their capabilities and circumstances can practice active non-violence.

Y One very visible form of active non-violence is the practice of vegetarianism. Vegetarianism has not only spiritual and ethical connotation but has become also an environmental necessity. Meat eating on a global scale involves merciless killing of innocent, voiceless and defenseless animals and birds at slaughterhouses and rearing of animals exclusively for provide food for human consumption as if they are a food crop without any soul, emotions or sentiments.

Y Also while human population goes on multiplying, many animal and bird species become extinct leading to harmonious life balance of nature being totally thrown out of gear.

Y Inter-faith programmes need to be evolved to persuade meat eaters to progressively take to vegetarian diet. Renowned western experts on nutrition and health have now testified to the nutritious content in vegetarian food in addition to its being more healthy, fresh, natural and ethical.

Y Globally, Parliament of World’s Religions could bring out persuasive literature on all the positive points of vegetarianism from nutrition and health as well as ethical and spiritual angles. If we want to conserve Earth’s resources, vegetarian diet can be one of the very effective and agreeable tools.

Y Jain philosophy of “Aparigraha” (non-possessiveness) can also provide a stimulant to inter-faith cooperation for encouraging voluntary restraint in consumption of food as well as other items of life’s comfort. Multiplication of wants and their endless pursuit has brought us to the state of highly developed materialism with seeds in it of degeneration and deprivation through wasteful practice of unbridled consumerism. Specific programmes at local levels could be of the following persuasions:

I. Periodic Fasting

Jains observe fasts without any food intake from one to any number of days. A renowned Jain monk Sahaj Muni created a record of 365 days of continuous fasting with intake of only boiled water drops daily. Fasting keeps you physically in control and spiritually for more motivated. It is not necessary to go in for such austerity for every one. Inter-faith programmes could be drawn up for community fasting for a day or two each month. We would save many scarce food resources for sustaining increasing population.

It is interesting to read the comments on “fasting” by Clare Rosenfield, an American votary of non-violence and non-possessiveness in my book on “Wave of Bliss”.

“Through fasting one day a week, I too, in my own way, am gaining confidence in my health, in being able to be free from the need for food at least one or two days at a time – from food – freedom from attachment.”

II. Practicing abstinence and voluntary renunciation

All such items of daily use that may involve killing of animals and birds should be avoided. This is very much in line with growing international campaign in favour of not using mink furs or leather articles and the like. In India, renowned Jain Monk Acharya Vidyasagar ji is carrying on a vigorous campaign for banning export of meat and closure of slaughter houses, and encouraging giving up use of leather shoes, bags and such other items. These may appear to be symbolic gestures, but it is through drop by drop that an ocean of compassionate interdependence can be created for saving Mother Earth.

III. No waste of food

Inter -faith programmes can also be implemented at local levels to ensure that at weddings and such other celebrations, there is no waste of food. Individuals should develop the culture of not leaving any left over on the plate while taking their meals.

When I was Indian Ambassador in Nepal, once Mother Teresa visited Kathmandu. On arrival at the airport she did not get down from the plane till the left over of food of passengers was not collected and given to her. From the airport, she straight went to the poor to distribute the food to them and only then came to the Embassy. She used to say that one of the most desirable forms of social service is not to waste any food. Mother Teresa has set an inspiring example.

IV. Environmental Upgradation

Inter-faith creative engagement can also be forged in environmental upgradation through afforestation of denuded lands as joint community programme, cleansing polluted waters of rivers, developing greenery in towns and cities and developing natural habitat around all pilgrimage centres. Cooperation in water conservation and its judicious use is another worthwhile sphere for inter-faith community action.

V. Interfaith celebration of Religious Festivals

Inter-faith tolerance Lord Mahavir and the birth anniversary of the Prophet fell on the same day and on Jain persuasion, Muslim Community observed it as a vegetarian day

For spiritualism to become a potent force for building a better and safer world, it is desirable for religions to set an example by putting stop to violent inter-religious clashes, ill-motivated propaganda and hostile rumour mongering.

VI. Inter-faith programmes for education of women and children

At the local levels, programmes for education of women and amelioration of their conditions as well as liberal and wider perspective education for children can be drawn up on the basis of a secular inter-faith effort. This will also spread the awareness for fighting forces of injustice, intolerance, oppression and exploitation.

CONCLUSION

In the Jain view, foundations of inter-faith creative engagement have to be in the fostering of locally oriented cooperative programme of ethical awareness and a growing feeling in the society that humans must learn to live among themselves as well as with all other life forms and natural elements in a harmonious manner.

Albert Schweitzer almost echoed Jain philosophy for cooperative creative engagement when he said:

Any religion which is not based on
Respect for life isn’t true religion,
Until he extends his circle of
Compassion to all living beings,
Man will not himself find peace.”

and harmony can be developed with major festivals of each faith being jointly celebrated. Such experiments have been tried out with success at local levels and have indeed prevented eruption of communal violence and religious conflicts. In my hometown Indore in the state of Madhya Pradesh (India) last year the birth anniversary of Jain Tirthankar We must never permit the voice of humanity within us to be silenced in the mad race towards abusive exploitation of living and vibrant environment around us.

It is coexistence with all creatures that would make a human both HUMAN and HUMANE. Very illustrative of this thought is a Buddhist proverb that says:

The frog does not drink up the pond in which he Lives”.

Y

It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”.

- Ancient Chinese Proverb

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